Someone in comments a while back — I think it was Jolene — made an observation about charges of “elitism” against Barry O. To paraphrase: Why do we encourage our children to excel in school, work hard, achieve, get good grades, get into the best colleges, think independently, read widely, etc., if at the end of all this they’ll stand before us and we’ll call them elitists?
I thought of it again when I read, via Romenesko, a heart-clutching memo from Lee Abrams, a former radio guy who’s now something like “chief innovation officer” for the painfully evolving Tribune Co. He’s supposed to be the fresh-eyed outsider charged with re-imagining newspapers in the new era. A few of his thoughts:
ASSUMPTIONS: Possibly the biggest problem. Assuming. I met a reporter who spent 4 years in Baghdad. Dodging bullets…staying in Hotels protected by the Marines. Yet, I’ll bet NO-one outside of the building knew this person was risking their life in Iraq to get YOU the news. If it were CNN, you’d see rockets and RPG’s in the background as the reporter ducks shrapnel. In the paper, it’s usually a small byline.
Hell, papers should have photos of the reporter with Iraqi kids…be writing diaries. Before I joined Tribune, I had NO idea that reporters were around the globe reporting the news…Because the paper “assumed” I knew.
THE NPR FEEL? Newspapers strike me as being a little TOO NPR. I like NPR, and their shows like Morning Edition do well. But NPR can also be a bit elitist. Morning News Radio has a lot of similarities to papers: Similar target audience; Old Media; Time restraints. It’s probably a good thing to study the feel of a well honed All News Radio station. Yeah, a different medium, but I sometimes get a slower more intellectual NPR feel from papers than a usually quicker paced and more mainstream News Radio delivery. It’s all about being INTELLIGENT…not intellectual. We are in the mainstream business. The 2008 Mainstream business. SMART…but not elite….and we DO get a little NPR at times. (And I DO like NPR…)
I can’t go back to newspapers. I just can’t.
At least he didn’t suggest we all write STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS with random caps; Like This; …like our READERS DO. They’ll understand, because more of them are like Lee ABRAMS, a man who made a fortune in radio but DIDN’T KNOW that reporters actually GO PLACES LIKE IRAQ to cover Iraq. The paper just Assumed he knew that when a Story has a Dateline that says BAGHDAD, that means IT WAS WRITTEN THERE.
OK, I’ll stop.
But this is, simply, bullshit. I love the part about crafting the paper more in the model of all-news radio than NPR. Of course, I am an elitist — THERE, Lee Abrams, I SAID IT — but I’ve been listening to NPR so long now that I simply cannot abide any other sort of news radio. It’s imperfect, granted, but on most days it’s an oasis, and if it were to disappear tomorrow I’d just throw all my radios away. YES, Lee, I WOULD. Of course, I happen to hate all-news radio with a passion. Hate. The weather on the sevens, traffic on the nines, sports brought to you by your friends at GutterHoods.com, the constant yapping commercials, all of it. Some of us are trying to understand the world’s events, not cram a few phrases between ellipses and call it news.
Someone told me the other day that the anchor of one of Detroit’s morning drive all-news/talk stations makes $1 million a year. I think it was Paul W. Smith. He writes a column for the News. Here’s a selection from one of his most recent:
I can only imagine (but I never hope to find out) the roller coaster of emotions that affected Metro Detroiters have been experiencing since storms knocked out the electricity last week. Some people were without power for up to a week, and I don’t blame them for being angry and wondering why it took so long to fix it. Too many cuts? Where do power officials put the extra thousand workers or so when everything is O.K. — when we take for granted that the lights will come on when we throw the switch? We sure shouldn’t be angry at those men and women who have been climbing those poles, clearing those limbs and holding on for dear life as the next storm rumbled through.
He goes on to note that melons are a luxury item in Japan, condenses a press release about a zoo fundraiser and concludes with this bit of Abrams-approved self-promotion, not a photo with Iraqi kids but good enough:
Thank you, Marketing & Sales Executives of Detroit for presenting me with your 2008 Executive Leadership Award this coming Wednesday.
There’s a newspaper column written — or phoned in — in the precise style of all-news radio: A rhetorical question, an opinion no one would find objectionable, an oddity from a funny foreign land and finishing with an air-kiss to the buttocks. INTELLIGENT, not intellectual, as Abrams might say.
I’m assuming Abrams is not being paid in hugs and kisses. And yet he is unembarrassed to write, Before I joined Tribune, I had NO idea that reporters were around the globe reporting the news. Why is it OK to call a smart person with smart-person attitudes and taste an elitist, but not to call Abrams, well, ignorant?
EDIT: You toss off something in 15 minutes between chores, and the next minute you’re on Romenesko. Our comments policy: First-timers go to moderation before appearing. I will try to keep up, but I have to go out in a bit and there may be a delay.